Did Airline Passengers Really Sue Southwest Airlines Over the Use of a Nursery Rhyme by a Flight Attendant?
Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about nursery rhymes and whether they are true or false.
NURSERY RHYME URBAN LEGEND: Airline passengers sued Southwest Airlines over the usage of a nursery rhyme by a flight attendant.
Few children’s rhymes have as rough a history as the simple “counting” rhyme, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.”
The most popular version of the rhyme goes:
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
With the rhyme designed to “randomly” count out one person, for purposes of determining who goes first, who is “it,” etc.
However, years ago, a particularly American take on the rhyme was quite popular (up until the late 19th Century, it was the most popular version of the rhyme in the United States), and in this version, instead of the word “tiger,” a common racial epithet for black people was used.
Some versions of the rhyme went even further, with stuff like:
If he won’t work then let him go;
Skidum, skidee, skidoo.
In any event, because of the history with the rhyme, some black people have a real problem with the rhyme, no matter the current lyrics.
So keep that in mind when you hear that a pair of black passengers were boarding a Southwest Airlines flight in 2001 (on Southwest, the passengers pick their own seats), when a flight attendant told them either:
Eeny meeny miny mo
Please sit down it’s time to go
Eeny meeny miny mo
Pick a seat, it’s time to go
(It was one or the other – both were alleged – it sounds like a matter of just not remembering the exact words correctly – they’re both pretty much the same)
Grace Fuller, 49, and her sister Louise Sawyer, 46 found this rhyme to be offensive and equivalent to a racial slur and wrote to Southwest Airlines to demand an apology and for Southwest to tell their flight attendants to cease to use the rhyme anymore. When neither happened, they sued the company.
A judge decided that there was a legitimate question of whether this was, in fact, a violation of a 1981 civil rights law that prevents businesses from treating black customers different than white customers. One of the sisters said that the incident was so disturbing to her that she suffered a seizure on the flight home and then a second one when she got home.
Eventually, a jury found against the sisters and in favor of Southwest Airlines (and their flight attendant, Jennifer Cundiff, who was just 22 years old at the time of the incident).
Cundiff notes that she no longer uses the rhyme on flights.
The legend is…
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